Vizcarra in the firing line

5 March 2017

Martín Vizcarra, the minister of transport and communications and also the first vice-president, is to undergo a formal questioning in Congress over his handling of the Chinchero airport contract. For his part, President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski has announced that he will not tolerate any forced resignation that arises out of a motion of censure against Vizcarra.

Speaking from Amazonas region on 2 March (where he went to inaugurate a tourist cable car, not to talk to disgruntled indigenous peoples, see below), Kuczynski is reported as saying “I will make this a question of confidence [in the cabinet as a whole], on this I have no doubt”.

Under the Peruvian constitution (Article 133), a government can dissolve Congress if it loses two votes of confidence. A vote of no-confidence would force a change of cabinet which, in turn, would require a further vote of congressional confidence in a new cabinet. Thus Kuczynski’s words up the ante in his government’s troubled relations with the pro-Fujimori majority in the Congress.

Were Vizcarra forced to resign as minister of transport and communications, it would not affect his status as vice-president. He is regarded as one of the few government ministers with strong political experience. His forced resignation as minister of transport and communications would be a further major blow to a government whose popularity continues to decline in the opinion polls from one month to the next.

The Fujimoristas in Congress showed their metal earlier this year when they forced Kuczynski to accept the resignation of Jaime Saavedra as education minister. The decision to force Vizcarra to answer questions on the Chinchero airport contract is widely interpreted as just the next step in a strategy to weaken the government, forcing it to replace key players.

Earlier in the week, in a bid to defend himself, Vizcarra announced that work on Chinchero would not go ahead until the Comptroller-General’s office has issued a report on the legality of the contract. This is a public-private partnership (PPP) with a group called Kuntur Wasi. Only last month, the government (facing a barrage of criticism in Cuzco where Chinchero is sited) said that it would push ahead with the contract notwithstanding the questioning it has received.

Kuntur Wasi submitted much the cheapest bid to build the airport, only to claim that it could not raise the funds required unless the contract was extended to give it longer to reimburse itself from the income received from running the airport. The practice of renegotiating contracts after they are signed through the use of ‘addendums’ has been centre stage in recent months because of the scandals surrounding contracts signed with Odebrecht and other Brazilian construction firms.

The original contract with Kuntur Wasi dates from 2013, and Vizcarra has sought to deflect any blame aimed at him by arguing that it was a bad contract signed by the previous Humala government.

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